- KFC brand icon Colonel Sanders will make a unique appearance as a playable character in the "WWE 2K18" video game, per news made available to Marketing Dive.
- WWE Hall of Famer, General Manager of WWE's flagship program Raw and former WWE World Heavyweight Champion Kurt Angle will have two playable versions in-game, with one being Colonel "Angle" Sanders. The special outfit is only available to people who pre-order the game. The Colonel Harland Sanders character can be accessed through the game's Create-a-Superstar play mode.
- The game features were announced on Sunday during WWE’s "Hell in a Cell" event co-presented by KFC and the video game publisher 2K. WWE and KFC will show off the virtual Colonel in the ring on WWE's YouTube gaming channel UpUpDownDown on Oct. 12, where Angle will face off with his rival Puppers Cluckers Chicken as portrayed by Heath Slater.
KFC and WWE are building on their relationship after the QSR brand returned this year as a co-presenting partner for the SummerSlam event, where Shawn Michaels came out on top to win the title of "The Colonel" — a role that's typically been filled, at least in recent years, by comedians. The growing brand partnership between the WWE and KFC is interesting in how tightly integrated KFC is with in-the-ring action both in the real world and now digitally via a video game. Wrestling fans are known for loyalty to their favorite Superstars, so adding Sanders to 2K18's storyline might increase brand affinity.
Broadcasting a virtual match between Sanders and Puppers Cluckers Chicken is a fairly novel stunt as well, and capitalizes on YouTube's popularity as a platform where young people go to watch others play video games. ESports, or professional competitive gaming, is increasingly popular with males aged 21 to 35 — a set that's getting more difficult to engage with traditional advertising, according to Ad Age. The YouTube event on WWE's official page shows how marketers like KFC can circumvent that aversion and reach a key audience where they're spending more of their time.
Stemming from these trends, some marketers are thinking about video game partnerships that go beyond simple in-game ads. Last month, Coca-Cola announced it would sponsor a virtual athlete at the center of "FIFA 18," even going as far as to recreate an iconic TV spot with the brand ambassador. Gaming continues to grow as a category — estimates from the industry intelligence firm Newzoo place 2017 revenues at around $109 billion, per VentureBeat — which means more brands will likely adopt similar strategies going forward.